‘Spanish flu pandemic’ could return, doctors warn

Posted on Jan 29, 2019 in Chronic Disease, Medical Rewind

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A century after outbreak thought to have infected a third of world’s population, health experts fear deadly mutation of influenza virus

Doctors warn killer strain could return

Doctors warn killer strain could return ( Getty Images )

It was the deadliest pandemic of the 20th century, killing tens of millions of people around the world in the months following the end of the First World War.

And as historians mark the centenary of the Spanish flu’s outbreak this month, doctors are warning that a deadly flu strain could return and spread across the globe.

Dr Fari Ahmad, a Cheshire GP, warned against the “complacent” assumption it could not happen in the 21st century.

“In theory, yes,” said the NHS practitioner when asked on BBC Breakfast if we could experience something similar to the Spanish flu.

“The flu has not gone away completely and it’s certainly not harmless,” she explained.

“When the Spanish flu happened I don’t think people quite understood what was going on for a while.

“We understand how the flu spreads so I think we are in a better place, but I wouldn’t say be complacent.”

It is not know precisely where the 1918 Spanish flu began, but it took its name from the first cases discovered and publicised in Spain.

At its height, the disease is believed to have infected a third of the world’s population.

The pandemic is estimated to have killed at least 50 million people in total. As many as 250,000 people are thought to have died in Britain alone.

Experts discussed the possibility of a repeat of the pandemic as part of an upcoming BBC Two programmeThe Flu That Killed 50 Million. Some leading medical figures believe another major global virus is overdue.

Dr Jonathan Quick, chair of the Global Health Council, has warned that “a new and unprecedentedly deadly mutation of the influenza virus” was the most likely kind of world health crisis.

“The big one is coming,” wrote the influential doctor earlier this year. He explained that flu remains “the most diabolical, hardest-to-control and fastest-spreading potential viral killer known to humankind.”

Dr Quick said at least six teams of medical researchers around the world are trying to develop a vaccine effective against all strains of flu.

Current seasonal vaccines can only attack two proteins in the flu virus, but are powerless to stop mutations of individual strains.

Doctors still recommend the flu vaccine for vulnerable groups – including older people, pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions.